Movies sometimes depict the difficulties of filmmaking and a few even deign to mention the screenwriter. Among the rare films in which scripters are front and center: “Sunset Boulevard,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Contempt,” “Barton Fink,” “The Player,” “Adaptation” and “Mank.”
In these films and others, the writer is almost always male. And we rarely see the results; we have to accept his word that the script turned out well or badly.
All of this makes Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island” even more notable. It centers on writer-director Chris (Vicky Krieps), who’s working on a script while summering on Faro Island, Ingmar Bergman’s longtime home.
Her husband, Tony (Tim Roth), a more successful filmmaker, is writing his own script. “I wanted a double portrait of two directors, but it would progressively become more about her,” Hansen-Love tells Variety.
Eventually “Bergman Island” shows scenes from Chris’s film-within-a-film, which also deals with a complex relationship (Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie) on Faro, so reality and fiction begin to blur.
“It’s extremely difficult to portray writers, or any artist, on screen and not be romantic or kitschy or idealistic,” Hansen-Løve says. “For the first 45 minutes, you don’t see Chris writing; I wanted to capture that invisible process — not the moment of writing, but all the chaos within you that you are able to give a form to, that will ultimately become a film — your past, your present, real life and your imagination.”
This is the seventh feature for the French-born Hansen-Løve. The English-language “Bergman’s Island,” distributed in the U.S. by IFC Films, contains references to such films as “The Seventh Seal” and “Cries and Whispers,” but familiarity with Bergman’s movies is not a requisite.
“I never wanted to exclude people who are not Bergman fans,” she says. “I hope the film is more universal. It deals with creation, and what it is being part of a couple and trying to preserve your inner world.”
Hansen-Løve is in synch with another film giant. In 1991, Federico Fellini said, “It’s difficult to show the bond between a husband and wife who married because of romance and passion, but who now have been married a long time. Friendship largely replaces what was there before, but not totally.”
She hadn’t heard the quote but exclaimed, “He’s so right! Chris and Tony have been together a long time, so the bond is deep and strong, but not the sexuality; when Chris writes, she realizes there is something missing. You might think the film is about them breaking up, but something is holding them together. To me the end is ambiguous. You could say it’s about the end of a couple, or the opposite.”
Bergman first filmed on Faro with “Through a Glass Darkly” (1957) and did multiple works there, including “Hour of the Wolf” and “The Passion of Anna.” Bergman lived there from 1965 until his death in 2007. His films make the island seem bleak and frightening.
Hansen-Løve makes it look green, pastoral and inviting. “I was interested in the passion between Bergman and Faro — also the relationship of Bergman’s Faro to everyone else’s Faro. Faro always belongs to Bergman. At the same time, I could make it my own.
“The place seemed extremely welcoming, thanks to him. Even in the 1970s, he wanted his estate, after his death, to be a place where artists would come. You feel invited, not an intruder.”
Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island” is about a specific couple, but also about relationships, creativity, soul-searching — and about love of movies, and how every person is influenced by them.